UCR denies ever granting approval for the tuna farm project
(Translated from ¨Nigan que UCR avalara proyecto para hacer granjas de atún¨, an article in Semanario Universidad)
CIMAR emphatically states the need for major studies to be undertaken before considering tuna farm project viability
Alvaro Morales, director of the Center for Scientific Marine Research and Limnology (CIMAR) for the University of Costa Rica (UCR) refuted the Environment Energy and Telecommunications Minister (MINAET) Jorge Rodriguez’s, comments that the center had approved the tuna farm project slated for the waters of the Golfo Dulce.
During a press conference on June 11 at the Legislative Assembly, MINAET’s director was questioned about the possibility of finalizing the tuna farm project. He replied that SETENA (Costa Rica’s Environmental Secretariat) had consulted with CIMAR and that “even the University had approved the tuna farm project’s environmental viability”.
The minister’s comments were recorded and put on You Tube by PRETOMA (Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas) a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) opposed to the tuna farm project.
The June 15th edition of “InformaTico”, which covered the activity, established that “according to the Minister of the Environment’s – Jorge Rodríguez – declarations, the environmental viability granted to Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. was endorsed by CIMAR”.
Morales recalled that the only agency with authority to formulate such an endorsement is the University’s Consul. “Our report clarified that we are not in favor or against the project; what SENTENA requested from us was a technical criteria. We even sat down with SETENA’s Plenary Commission to explain our work”.
“It’s not advisable to put words in peoples mouths that they haven’t said, like the Minister did, and by doing so he made it sound like SETENA consulted with various organizations, including UCR, and granted the project viability on the basis that there was no negative criteria. There is ambiguity in what the minister expresses”, he said.
CIMAR was consulted about this subject in September of last year. The center released a document on the subject that did not evaluate the tuna farm project. It stated the necessity of performing greater studies on the currents in this zone and specified that humpback whales and sea turtles could be found at the projected site.
However, Morales said that after the release of a press release from PRETOMA, entitled “UCR endorses the operation of Tuna Farms of Golfito S.A, according to the Minister of the Environment”, CIMAR decided to send a letter to the NGO, SETENA and to authorities MINAET, requesting a clarification.
In an attempt to find out the minister’s position, the specific questions regarding how he came to his stated conclusions were asked of him.
However, at press time, Rodriguez has not yet responded, sighting a willingness to cooperate but that at the present time his involvement in other assorted meetings prevented him from doing so. He supposedly said that the Ministry’s press office had not shown him the questions and therefore believed the matter was more SETENA’s responsibility.
In addition, other questions where sent to Sonia Espinosa, the General Secretary of SETENA. An assistant to the General Secretary acknowledged that the questions were received and would be answered; though, this did not happen.
The company Granjas Atuneras Golfito S.A (GAGSA) presented the project in question. On 2005 it was granted a concession to exploit tuna in the Golfo Dulce.
The initiative consists of building cages near Punta Banco, at the entranced to the Golfo Dulce. Tuna that have been captured in the open ocean will be taken to these cages with the help of nets. The tuna will then be fed with imported sardines to fatten them and make them greasy. Finally this product will be exported to places like Japan.
The project has created a lot of controversy in the area (see March 30th, 2006 edition of UNIVERSIDAD). The environmental concern is over contamination that would be created by the tuna waste, thus polluting an area that is very delicate because of its biodiversity. Also this area is home to species that are in need of protection, such as the Bottlenose dolphin and sea turtles.
Corcovado’s tourism board stated in a letter to MINAET that the nets that were going to be used for capturing the tuna “meant the destruction of our precious Golfo Dulce, that is the deepest fiord of the planet and has the richest marine biodiversity and because of this, the activity of sport fishing, which attracts thousands of tourists (…) will be strongly affected. (…) as well as the amount of dolphins that live in this area and the different types of whales that come to this zone to give birth”.
In February, 2006, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the Minister of the Environment at that time, sent a letter to INCOPESCA’s board (Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuccultura). In this letter he said that “the company’s executive director and its shareholders (…) have manifested the urgency to start the project due to technical and economic reasons”.
The project has created a great deal of controversy and opposition to it has increased beyond the local organizations of the Peninsula de Osa and Golfito. Diputados such as Olivier Pérez from the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) and José Manuel Echandi, at that time from the Partido Union Nacional (PUN), have spoken out against the initiative (found in UNIVERSIDAD from June 20th 2006).
In March 2007 the Constitutional Court haulted the project. One of the reasons was because of a contradiction in what was stipulated in the environmental impact assessment that GAGSA presented to SETENA and a sworn statement from the company, stating that marine currents moved “slowly” through the area, while later on stating that the currents were rapid enough to guarantee the break down of the wastes from the cages.
Randall Arauz, president of PRETOMA, pointed out that there is widespread opposition, from organizations of artisanal fisherman and the hotel sector, and even the Municipality of Golfito and the Gnöbe indigenous communities.
Arauz explained to UNIVERSIDAD that “unfortunately the project is imminent because of the decisions from SETENA and the Minister of the Environment”.
Arauz pointed out that, “Our position is that we have to respect the criteria of the Constitutional Court, which in 2007 ordered the suspension of the project and pointed out the necessity of achieving prior studies to determine the impact that a tuna farm would have on the Golfo Dulce”. In addition he made the provision that when dealing with environmental matters, there must be previous certainty about the impact of the intended projects.
Arauz also added that “SETENA did not carry out any studies; instead it did a literary review of the arguments in favor and against and of the impacts of tuna farming”.
With indignation the activist pointed out that “the minister Rodríguez gave his declarations during a press conference about whales, which is part of the ambiguities that take place in the country. On one hand he promotes whale conservation, while on the other hand he promotes the setting up a tuna farm that puts in danger the humpback whale, which arrives to the Golfo Dulce to give birth”.
Morales responded that on the declarations from June 11th the Minister did not specifically mentioned the UCR or CIMAR, however, “we have been the only ones that have contributed a scientific criteria”
He also added that a clarification was requested from SETENA for the “proper use of the report, given the bad habit that when they ask for technical criteria, what they do is ask the developer to assume the responsibility to improve what is pointed out”.
“We asked PRETOMA to clarify why it mentioned UCR and CIMAR if the Minister did not”, he added.
On the subject of the tuna farms, Morales, who is a marine biologist, said that he did not know of any study that clarified the variables that CIMAR outlined.
“We have to take into consideration that these tuna farms are going to extract natural populations of organisms and fatten them, which could bring terrible short and medium term consequences. If such a project is established, we would be experimenting, which we should not be doing, given that the risks are high. It is also documented that dolphins will interact with the tunas given that they are communal species.”
The communication CIMAR-352-08 from September 30th, 2008 is made up of ten pages and, among other things, talks about the biological importance of the Golfo Dulce and emphasizes the necessity of applying the precautionary principal in order to apply environmental protection measures “when there is the suspicion of a possible impact”.
This document warns that the activity of fattening cages “goes beyond the national, regional, and world legislations about aquaculture and fisheries, and there is a gaping hole in the management of this sector”.
Thus it is emphasized that a “major discussion and divulgation of the operational aspects of these types of activities”, is lacking. It should also include social subjects.